- Sam Mendes
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, October 02, 2008
While Lester talked to his daughter in the kitchen early in the movie I was thinking, ďCome on, man, this is you, Lester, what are you doing talking to your daughter in the sort of scene that I would star, as would my neighbor, my former classmate, my workmate, or even a few Hollywood stars, but definitely not you!Ē But then, right then, that scene was interrupted by a bizarre situation: the point of view of a neighbor video camera taping that scene from afar, in a way that isnít as morbid as it is appreciative, where words donít matter, only the beauty of the images, only the poignancy of human drama without getting into the specifics or caring about them, that being what makes it so special.
Well, thatís what makes American Beauty so special. Itís presumably filled with normal day-to-day situations, albeit comically mixed and taken to the extreme and timed precisely for screwball, thought itís never treated as such, and yet we never feel like these events are anything but special, however, we donít believe these characters to be different from us, but we understand the movie to be, like itís from another world, like it has a reality of its own, with its own look and its own rules, and it works to perfection, makes us want to be inside, stay in there, and forget about our problems, even though in this story thereís nothing but problems, and they go as far as causing the disruption of a family and the death of the protagonist, which is announced from the start, and which is the one worst thing that can happen in a story where we grow to like the character so much.
But, then again, thereís a twist: that he dies is one of the most beautiful aspects of the story, not because we want to get rid of him, but because he has reached in a short time what he thought he would never achieve: content. He is, and we are, at peace when he dies, and every storyline, iniquitous though it may be, has reached a similar climax. What happens next is, we suppose, quite horrifying, and I hear it was even intended for the film to include a trial, but Iím glad they didnít go that far, because as this macrocosm goes, itís all full of success.
Perhaps after so many years and so many viewings I have come to question the story a bit. I have come to wonder if itís really credible after all, if everything could be as easy as it seems, if anyone so carefree could pull it off, etc. I realized thatís in part what was bugging me about it, not the unconcluded plot, but the fact that itís all so fantastic, so unattached to reality. We easily buy the world that has been created for the screen, but there comes a time for some people, as it did for me, when we have to wonder whether this filmís world really works. Not completely, I believe, not unless the universe, or rather the screenwriter, conspires to make it so. The balance is perfection, but sometimes artificially so. Itís all there because it aides the story, not quite because thereís any logic to it. I shouldnít be thinking so much about logic and go with the flow once again, but I just wanted to point it out.
In America Beauty, everything is symmetrical or has a geometrical logic, the shots designed and executed by Conrad L. Hall with stunning precision and attractiveness, so stunning in fact that itís not that stunning after all, itís just perfect, as if it was meant to be. Another shockingly precise factor is Thomas Newmanís music, highly praised and with reason, for it has a state-of-the-art style that accompanies every mood by adding a sort of subtle commentary without actually interfering.
Like the tunes he uses in the hilarious fantasy scenes where Lester fantasizes with his daughterís cheerleader friend (Mena Suvari) he has a crush with, the event that fires his rebellion, one so finely executed that it couldnít have made him more likable. Kevin Spacey plays this man with such complacency that itís hard not to feel his numbness, or rejoice at his awakening. His controlling wife is played by Annette Bening so powerfully that one of the hardest times the story has is while trying to convince us that she was once smooth and easy-going. Their daughter, Jane, is portrayed by Thora Birch in such a bored, annoyed fashion that she screams adolescence with every nuance, and sheís great. The neighbor she romances, the ďfreakĒ with the video camera, has actor Wes Bentley under his skin, also quite a triumph of emotional performing, saying so much with simple expressions; his father, the former U.S. Marine Col. Frank Fitts, is another of Chris Cooperís unforgettable performances.
The script by Alan Ball is such a wicked jigsaw puzzle so perfectly put together that one canít but wonder at his creative process. The way director Sam Mendes, in his film debut, translated it to the screen by orchestrating so much talent all around that itís indeed a beauty-ridden spectacle. So much beauty on the screen. I feel like I canít take it.
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Other reviews of American Beauty (1999): Morris